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Parable of the King and the Guard Captain

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In the days when Atlantis ruled the world and held all other lands in thrall, a foreign king once came by sea to pay homage to that great nation. The king’s ship, bearing tribute and gifts, put in at the port of Atlantis, and the captain of the harbor guard came aboard to inspect the newly docked vessel.

The king, seated on a grand throne erected on the ship’s deck, his warriors arrayed beside him, greeted the Atlantean guard captain, who stood before the foreign ruler and returned the greeting as an equal. Yet the king’s most loyal warrior, who stood at his lord’s right hand, was angered by this; scowling, he exclaimed, “Kneel in the presence of His Majesty!” But the guard captain only looked at the warrior calmly, and said: “The free people of Atlantis do not kneel, and do not bow—not even before kings.”

The king’s man was greatly angered by this, and made to draw his sword; but the king stopped him with a gesture. “We are, after all, visitors in the good captain’s country,” said he, “and must obey the customs of his people, strange though we might find them.” But he looked thoughtful, then, and, peering slyly at the Atlantean, spoke again. “Were we, however, in my realm,” the king said, “you could be made to submit, could you not?”

“With respect, O Great King,” replied the captain, “you are mistaken. For compliance is an act of the body; but submission is an act of will. You could, indeed, order your warriors to force me to my knees; but if they did this, would it truly be I who had obeyed you—or only they?” And to this, the king had no answer.